Matthew Angelus and his sister Amanda traveled more than a thousand miles from Montreal, Canada, to Williamsburg in search of their family’s roots.
Matthew Angelus, an attorney, is a senior associate at Torys LLP, one of Canada’s leading law firms. Amanda is a medical doctor practicing Family Medicine.
They traveled to Williamsburg to interview me, the only living adult who personally knew their grand and great-grandparents in the Old Country.
This story unfolded when Matthew Angelus sent an email to my editor, asking her to put him in touch with me. It turned out Amanda was searching online for a news item about her late grandfather, George Angelus, who was recognized by the Hungarian government for his war-time heroism. In the process of searching the internet, she stumbled on my Gazette column mentioning her grandparents’ names and their fate after World War II.
The column she found mentioned that I was interviewed by Campbell Hickman of Williamsburg, a sophomore at Hampton Roads Academy whose school assignment was to write an essay on the Holocaust, but with a twist. Namely, how the survivors of the Holocaust attempted to reunite with their families after the war ended.
As an example, I used the return of George Angelus and Maria Frankl to their hometown, Parkan, in the Czechoslovak Republic.
They stayed, met and fell in love in my father’s house. Matthew Angelus explained that his grandmother, Maria, died when he was 4 months old, and his grandfather, George, who called himself a “simple country boy,” did not talk about his life prior to moving to Canada.
They came to Williamsburg to fill in the gaps.
I started with my memory of their great grandfather. George Angelus was the best-known armchair military strategist in town. In the 1930s, during the Italian-Abyssinian war, laying his maps out on the coffeehouse table, he plotted the maneuvers of the fighting armies.
But he wasn’t a good businessman. His family was one of the poorest Jewish families in town. Maria Frankl’s family was the exact opposite: They were the richest in Southern Czechoslovakia. They owned flour mills and starch factories. George and Maria, considering their social status, never met until I introduced them to each other.
Their great-grandparents all perished during the Holocaust.
I told them their grandfather wasn’t a “simple country boy,” after all. He was a published poet at age 15, and during the Holocaust he played the role of an impeccably dressed representative of the International Red Cross with diplomatic immunity.
Their grandmother, Maria, was educated at a Roman Catholic boarding school in Budapest and was saved by the teaching nuns.
A member of the Angelus family, of whose exploits Matthew and Amanda were not aware, was Ari, known to me as Miska. He was an ardent Zionist and immigrated to Palestine, then a British mandate. He joined a kibbutz, a collective agricultural enterprise, and soon was elected chairman.
Following World War II, there were 250,000 Holocaust survivors languishing in camps all over Western Europe, wishing to settle in Palestine, but the British issued only a limited number of permits. The Jewish Agency decided to arrange the illegal immigration of Holocaust survivors to the country.
Ari Angelus was sent to Europe to organize the transportation of the illegal immigrants. He bought or leased old seagoing ships and packed them with Holocaust survivors. The ships arrived to deserted beaches at night, where members of the Haganah, the Jewish defense force, waited for them.
Eluding the British, the new immigrants were absorbed into the existing Jewish population.
Matthew and Amanda asked me questions for three hours. I hope I was able to fill in some of the gaps in their family history. I also told them they have much to be proud of with their ancestors.
Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Paris Shop and Amazon.com.